Last weekend our men’s Saturday morning Bible study group was challenged to consider the presence or absence of silence in our daily lives. We meditated on listening to God in 1 Samuel 3:1-21, then watched a video clip that challenged us to consider whether we welcome silence or avoid it by always turning up the volume.
Henri Nouwen asserts that silence is essential because it “Guards the Fire Within” (The Way of The Heart, Ballantine Books, 1983, page 37). “Silence guards the inner heat of religious emotions. This inner heat is the life of the Holy Spirit within us. Thus, silence is the discipline by which the inner fire of God is tended and kept alive.”
By way of explanation and interpretation, Nouwen then expounds on quotations provided first by a certain Diadochus of Photiki, who wrote about “Spiritual Knowledge and Discrimination,” as quoted in volume one of The Philokalia (London &Boston: Faber & Faber, 1979). A second quotation comes from James O. Hannay's book The Wisdom of the Desert (London: Methuen, 1904, pages 205-206).
As Nouwen writes, “Diadochus of Photiki offers us a very concrete image: ‘When the door of the steambath is continually left open, the heat inside rapidly escapes through it; likewise the soul, in its desire to say many things, dissipates its remembrance of God through the door of speech, even though everything it says may be good . . . Ideas of value always shun verbosity, being foreign to confusion and fantasy. Timely silence, then, is precious, for it is nothing less than the mother of the wisest thoughts.’”
Commenting on the sayings of the Desert Fathers, James Hannay writes: “The mouth is not a door through which any evil enters. The ears are such doors as are the eyes. The mouth is a door only for exit. What was it that they [the Desert Fathers] feared to let go out? What was it which someone might steal out of their hearts, as a thief takes the steed from the stable when the door is left open? It can have been nothing else than the force of religious emotion.”
“What needs to be guarded is the life of the Spirit within us. Especially we who want to witness to the presence of God’s Spirit in the world need to tend the fire within with the utmost care,” writes Nouwen (page 39).
“It is as if we are not sure that God’s Spirit can touch the hearts of people: we have to help him out and, with many words, convince others of his power. But it is precisely this wordy unbelief that quenches the fire.
“Our first and foremost task is faithfully to care for the inward fire so that when it is really needed it can offer warmth and light to lost travelers.”